UNLV coach Tony Sanchez was stopped on the way to the team bus by a reporter after last Saturday’s 28-7 loss at Michigan and asked if he could exhale a little bit?
After all, the Rebels had just finished a brutal three-game season-opening stretch that included road trips to defending MAC champ Northern Illinois and Michigan sandwiched around a home game with ninth-ranked UCLA. And now UNLV gets to host a FCS school, Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference, on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“We’re not going to exhale one bit,” Sanchez replied. “The amount of focus and intensity this week is going to be through the roof. It’s going to be more intense and more hard-core than it has been all year.”
Although Idaho State (1-2) is coming in off a 52-0 thumping by Boise State and has only beaten a Division II team, Black Hills State, 55-0, Sanchez knows his winless squad can’t take anything for granted in its final nonconference contest before heading north to Reno to face Nevada next week in the Battle for the Fremont Cannon.
“We’re not assuming anything,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got to go out there and play well. This is the type of game that, let’s face it, UNLV has struggled with in the past.”
Indeed, the Rebels were just 2-2 against FCS teams under former head coach Bobby Hauck, including a less-than-glorious 13-12 victory over Northern Colorado last season. The Bears, who brought a 12-game losing streak with them to Sam Boyd Stadium, missed a potential game-winning 23-yard field goal try late in the fourth quarter.
UNLV also lost at home to Northern Arizona (17-14) in 2012 and to Southern Utah (41-16) in 2011.
The Rebels have lost nine in a row dating back to a 30-27 overtime win over Fresno State on Oct. 10, 2014 at Sam Boyd. So any kind of win – even a one-pointer – would be welcome by Sanchez and company.
The odds would seem to be in UNLV’s favor. Idaho State has lost 23 consecutive games against FBS schools dating back to a 27-24 victory at Utah State in 2000.
For Sanchez, who lost only five games in six seasons at Bishop Gorman High School, the most important thing is for his rebuilding squad to continue to work hard no matter who the opponent is.
“We’ve improved each and every week,” Sanchez said. “We’re playing hard and we’re playing tough. We’re disappointed with the outcomes of the last three weeks but we know if we just stay the course, continue to grow, continue to play with this type of effort, you’re going to see a big improvement.”
Saturday night’s game is not being televised but will be available on a free live stream at unlvrebels.com with Tony Cordasco doing the play-by-play and Caleb Herring, the star quarterback on UNLV’s 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl squad, providing the color analysis.